Cindy has been raising and training Maremma livestock guardian dogs for six years. In that time, she has owned, or trained, more than 250 Maremmas. “I am currently finding working homes for my tenth litter of Maremmas,” Cindy shares. “Right now, there are twenty adult Maremmas guarding the ranch, in addition to the nine twelve-week-old puppies.” Cindy says that “animal husbandry and the study of behavioral science have been my life’s work.” At home, Cindy has two border collies, a miniature schnauzer, and a mini Aussie.
This instructor was, and is, a Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) student. Cindy completed the KPA Dog Trainer Foundations (DTF) course in 2018 and went on to complete the Puppy Start Right for Instructors course, the Better Veterinary Visits course, and the Training for Professionals: Across Species course. She also worked with KPA Certified Training Partner (CTP) Bobbie Lyons before she enrolled in the KPA Dog Trainer Professionals (DTP) program.
“After I completed the Foundations course, I knew I was only at the beginning of my educational journey with KPA. The first time I held a clicker was a month before I began the Foundations course, so I needed to build my skills,” remembers Cindy. Cindy completed the DTP program on July 4, 2020, with Terry Ryan.
Cindy speaks highly of her KPA DTP instructor. “It was my great honor to learn from Terry. What a wonderful opportunity!” When Cindy had doubts about herself or felt overwhelmed, Terry broke down a task into smaller pieces or steps and offered support through her feedback of Cindy’s training videos. “She made everything seem possible, and it was.” Cindy plans to be a student with Terry again, when her Chicken Camp course can be held in-person post-COVID. She is currently enrolled in the KPA Canine Freestyle course!
Cindy considers learning about shaping to be the most useful and illuminating aspect of the DTP course. “Shaping is the most powerful tool I know of for training with LGDs. My KPA skills show up most in the shaping work that I do. I will continue to perfect that training skill for the rest of my training career.”
Cindy raises puppies together as a litter until they are six to nine months of age. “When I train with them, I am often working with nine to twelve puppies at a time, in a variety of fields and livestock situations.” Cindy introduces capturing to the puppies beginning at four weeks of age. “I use capturing to reinforce eye contact and an offered sit.” She uses shaping to teach cued behaviors, such as “let’s go” (“move out in front of me and go to work”), “get back” (“back up slightly, usually as I come through a gate, but sometimes in the presence of livestock”), and “easy” (“slow down physically”).
Cindy also teaches the pups to nose target. “That allows me to move them, to me from a distance or through a population of livestock. I teach them to target their back to my hand; my flat hand on their back means to stand still until I remove my hand. I use this behavior to stop a fast-moving pup traveling through a livestock population, and to boost the confidence of a pup that has found himself in a challenging situation.”
In addition to sharing clicker training with the owners of the LGDs she trains, Cindy works to connect with the larger LGD community positively. “My KPA education makes it possible for me to impact the livestock guardian community through the high visibility of my Benson Maremmas website training blogs, most of which contain actual training videos, my YouTube channel, my promotion of the KPA Foundations course, and the KPA Foundations companion training manual to the course that I have written.” The manual follows the steps of the KPA DTF course, “teaching how the training principles in the Foundations course may be applied to the training of LGDs.” Cindy explains that within the LGD industry formal training is uncommon. “If training is offered, it is rarely positive reinforcement training.” The result is a high rate of failure for LGDs. “Most LGDs that fail are euthanized, in part because they are not suitable as pets. Therefore, I am certain that I am using my KPA education to help save dogs’ lives.”